If I Quit Purging, Will I Gain Weight?
There is no single answer to this question that is true for everyone. Some people gain weight when they stop purging, others lose or stay the same. This question is of obvious concern for most people with bulimia, but it brings up another, more relevant question: Why do you care? Whether you gain or lose weight is not as important as whether you can become self-accepting regardless of your weight or shape. (See Chapter Six, “Healthy Eating and Healthy Weight.”)
Currently, the harmful message that thinness has innate value permeates every level of our society, although this has not always been the case. While there have been societal standards of beauty within every culture and time, emphasis has been increasingly placed on thinness in Westernized countries since the late ’60s, particularly for women. Contemporary actresses and models, who represent the “ideal” woman are the thinnest 5-10% of the general public. Consequently, 90-95% of women are pressured to lose weight (Seid, 1994). So ingrained is the value of thinness that dieting has become an accepted part of their lives. One study showed that 42% of girls in the 1st through 3rd grades want to be thinner (Collins, 1991). Another showed that 51% of nine and ten year-old girls feel better about themselves when they are dieting; 9% of nine years olds have vomited to lose weight; 81% of ten year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin, 1992).
A thin body has become a panacea, with both implied and actual rewards. We asked people who have had food problems to list their gut reactions to the words “thin” and “fat.” “Thin” was associated with goodness, power, success, glamor, comfort, control, happiness, approval, attraction, friendship, love, and perfection. “Fat” indicated the opposite: panic, anger, self-hate, inferiority, unworthiness, unhappiness, loneliness, frustration, disgust, desperation, laziness, rejection, lack of control, ugliness, sloppiness, and failure! As a culture, we have been brainwashed. So much so that we can no longer separate the uniqueness of a person from the meanings connoted by the size of their bodies. This creates prejudice, the ultimate result of which is discrimination against people with large bodies. Naturally, you are worried about gaining weight!
The fact is that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and every person has a genetically programmed “natural” weight which is most healthy for them. This is called “set point.” It is the weight at which they feel best, are neither eating too much or too little, and have a balanced metabolism. This ideal weight is a lot different than the one that is found on a standardized table. It is unique to every person. Actually, one’s set point is a range of between about five to ten pounds. (See Chapter Seven, “Healthy Eating and Healthy Weight.”) Even a large body can be fit when it is at its set point—getting healthy food and regular, moderate exercise.
You can find your body on your family tree and there is not much you can do about it! Research has consistently shown that fat people, on the average, do not eat more than those who are thin. Biologically thin, adopted children in households with large adoptive parents do not grow up fat, or visa versa. Genetically thin people who are overfed do not become fat (Ellis-Ordway, 1999). In adoptive families, there is no relationship between the weights of the parents and children. Studies of twins also demonstrates that heredity accounts for about 70% of fatness (Foreyt, 1992).
In answer to the original question, frightening though it may be, many bulimics who resume normal eating do gain some weight while their metabolism adjusts to normal and they replenish their cellular water supply. Eventually, they will level off at the weight that is genetically correct for their particular body. At the same time, they are making the commitment to gain happiness, peace of mind, feelings of wholeness and integrity, as well as take care of themselves emotionally and physically. Interestingly, many individuals from our survey discovered that when they gave up dieting and the need to be thin, their bodies came to rest at weights that were acceptable, comfortable, beautiful, and unique. They were not necessarily thin.
I used to weigh myself at least 25 times a day. Now, I have not been on a scale for over two years. Eating disordered people like myself are so hung up on numbers. What should count is how you feel, not a number on the scale. It’s hard to break the scale habit, but my advice to anyone is, don’t weigh yourself at all!
I’m content with myself and realize I don’t have to be skinny any longer. My health is more important to me than the image of “model thin.”
Nothing could hurt me as much as being called “fat.” It’s only now, with definite steps toward recovery, that I’m able to understand how I used food and weight problems to hide from the real issues: relationship problems, loneliness, and shyness. Only when I took recovery as serious business was I able to understand that all of life does not revolve around fat or thin.
My weight stays within a five-pound range. I will admit that I would like to weigh about five pounds less, but I consider stopping bulimia much more important than being “thin.”
This increase (eight pounds) was right after I stopped vomiting every day, but I have stayed at that weight ever since.
I am at peace with my body image. I learned the way I look doesn’t count half as much as how I act and my attitude toward myself. I get more compliments on my appearance when I am feeling really good about myself than when I struggled to be thinner.
Reprinted with permission from Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery
By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn
To find out more about this helpful book click here.